Tag Archives: Decalogue

The Good, the Bad, and the Preaching of Christ: Philippians 1:15-20.

Hope this new year is going well for all of you.  I am sad, because I know that this Philippians series will have to wait until the summer to get finished.  But Monday I begin my odyssey into the Odyssey.  But for now, Paul marches on:

15 Τινὲς μὲν καὶ διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, τινὲς δὲ καὶ δι᾽ εὐδοκίαν τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν·

16 οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἀγάπης, εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμαι,

17 οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας τὸν Χριστὸν καταγγέλλουσιν, οὐχ ἁγνῶς, οἰόμενοι θλῖψιν ἐγείρειν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου.

18 τί γάρ; πλὴν ὅτι παντὶ τρόπῳ, εἴτε προφάσει εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ, Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω. ἀλλὰ καὶ χαρήσομαι,

19 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

20 κατὰ τὴν ἀποκαραδοκίαν καὶ ἐλπίδα μου, ὅτι ἐν οὐδενὶ αἰσχυνθήσομαι ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πάσῃ παρρησίᾳ ὡς πάντοτε καὶ νῦν μεγαλυνθήσεται Χριστὸς ἐν τῷ σώματί μου, εἴτε διὰ ζωῆς εἴτε διὰ θανάτου.

In English:

15 While some preach Christ by envy and strife, others do through goodwill;

16 Some from love, knowing that I am appointed to defense of the gospel,

17 and others from strife proclaim Christ not from pure motives, thinking they will increase the affliction of my bonds.

18 What of this?  But in every manner, whether in pretext or in truth, Christ is preached, and in that I rejoice.  And I will continue to rejoice,

19 for I know that this will turn out for salvation, through your prayers and the assistance of the spirit of Jesus Christ,

20 in accord with my eager expectation and hope, that I may in nothing be ashamed but in all boldness, as always and now, Christ will be exalted through my body, whether through life or through death.

Today I’ll focus on the term φθόνον (phthonon, or phthonos in the nominative).

Phthonos most directly translates to “jealousy” or “envy.”  Sumney explains that this is an uncommon term in the NT, appearing only nine times, three of which are in lists of vices.  Reumann notes two things about this word: it’s a “thoroughly Greek term, in classical sources,” and it is always a bad thing.  Phthonos is a vice, whether it’s envy of friends, political leaders, or the gods.  First Clement gives a short history of jealousy and envy, deeming its cause to be outside God’s order, and implicated jealousy in the sins of Cain, David, and Israel itself.

Yet we have also just read a passage from Exodus where the Lord famous says, “I am a jealous [qana’] God.”  Is God supposed to be petty and envious?  TWOT tells us that qana’ is a vice for humans in the Hebrew worldview, but not for God:

On the other hand the divine action accomplished with “jealousy” may result in good and salvation.  Thus this arduous love effected the return (Isa 42:13). … The word is used to denote a passionate, consuming “zeal” focused on God that results in the doing of his will and the maintaining of his honor in the face of the ungodly acts of men and nations.

So phthonos is bad, but qana’ is not necessarily so.  Propp even notes that qana’ carries connotations of sexual jealousy and possession.  The Septuagint seems to catch this nuance.  The Greek renders qana’ not as phthonos, but as ζηλωτής (zēlōtēs), meaning “loyal,” “zealous,” “enthusiastically adherent,” or “patriotic.”  Yet English translations often fail to make this distinction, rendering both in the same way.  The NIV, NRSV, and NAB all have “envy” (Phil 1:15) and “jealous” (Exodus 20:5).

So perhaps Exodus should not state that God is jealous, but that God is zealous or impassioned, as Propp suggests.  To me this makes more sense, and erases this odd anthropomorphism that the KJV and subsequent translations introduce.

Idols and images: Exodus 20:1-5.

I continue blogging the decalogue with Exodus 20:1-5:

  וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים, אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר

  אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי

  לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל, וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה, אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת–וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם, מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ

:ה לֹא-תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם, וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם:  כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֵל קַנָּא–פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים, לְשֹׂנְאָי

My translation:

1 And God spoke all these words, saying:

2 I am the Lord your god, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.

3 Do not have other gods before my face.

4 Do not make an idol of any form which is in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, or in the seas under the land.

5 Do not bow down to them and do not serve them, for I am the Lord your god, a jealous god, appointing the sins of the fathers onto the sons, onto the third and the fourth generation of those who despise me.

This famous passage of the Bible graces many a church (and courthouse) with its presence.  Breaking my usual pattern of looking at 2-3 words or phrases, today’s post will focus entirely on the nuances of עַל-פָּנָי (ʿal-pānāy).

An Israelite's worst nightmare.  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redlinx/211038760/

An Israelite’s worst nightmare. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redlinx/211038760/

I have written before about the metaphorical usage of various body parts in biblical Hebrew literature.  Literally, this text says to have “no other gods before my face.”  What does this mean?  Most translators render this “before me” (NRSV, NIV) or “besides me” (NAB) or “beside me” (Alter).  They translate the idiom “before my face” into more literal, non-metaphorical language: you cannot worship anything other than Yahweh.  I can’t help but think something is lost in translation.  William Propp comments:

If Yahweh inhabited an idol or stone, the command would simply be not to display other images in his cella [temple sanctuary], as was done around Allah, for example, in pre-Islamic Mecca.  So one possible meaning is that no other deities may be worshipped in Yahweh-shrines. (167)

Monotheism was not pulled out of a hat.  It went through an intermediate stage of henotheism: allegiance to one deity, not denying the existence of other gods but their efficacy and power.  Similarly, it’s possible that Israel’s aniconism (no images!) did not emerge overnight either.  If there were statues of Yahweh, then “before my face” could point to something much more concrete and un-metaphorical than “besides me.”  It may point to another meaning of Alter’s translation “beside me.”  Alter uses a spatial term that carries the same ambiguity as “before my face,” although his notes make it clear he intends it in the idiomatic sense only.

Ancient translators also veered between the literal and the idiomatic in translating this phrase.  The Septugaint renders it “πλὴν ἐμοῦ”: “except me.”  But the Vulgate renders it “coram me”: “in my presence.”  Deuteronomy 5:7, despite being identical to Exodus 20:3, gets translated differently in the same translations!  The Septuagint renders it “πρὸ προσώπου μου” and the Vulgate “in conspectu meo.”  Both preserve the Hebrew idiom.  Still, it raises a question: didn’t the translators of the Septuagint and the Vulgate notice they were translating the same passage twice?

So we are left with two readings.  The first reading takes ʿal-pānāy only in the idiomatic sense: “I shall be your only god.”  Other translators preserve a possible henotheistic, iconographic sense to the idiom.  Perhaps there were images of Yahweh that had faces and shrines.  Pastors often take an entirely different route: an idol is anything that we put before God.  The Oxford Bible Commentary notes that this is not part of the original meaning of an idol (pesel).  So whatever you believe about “before my face” or “besides me,” know that the idols spoken of here are Ba’al and Asherah, not sex and money.

Prologue to the Decalogue: Deuteronomy 5:1-5.

Merry Christmas!

Today I’ll be continuing my blog series on reading the Decalogue in Hebrew, comparing the ten mitzvot in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  Let’s start, as my course did, with the prologue to Deuteronomy’s version:

א  וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר בְּאָזְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם; וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשֹׂתָם.

ב  יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, כָּרַת עִמָּנוּ בְּרִית–בְּחֹרֵב.

ג  לֹא אֶת-אֲבֹתֵינוּ, כָּרַת יְהוָה אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת:  כִּי אִתָּנוּ, אֲנַחְנוּ אֵלֶּה פֹה הַיּוֹם כֻּלָּנוּ חַיִּים.

ד  פָּנִים בְּפָנִים, דִּבֶּר יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר–מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

ה  אָנֹכִי עֹמֵד בֵּין-יְהוָה וּבֵינֵיכֶם, בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לְהַגִּיד לָכֶם, אֶת-דְּבַר יְהוָה:  כִּי יְרֵאתֶם מִפְּנֵי הָאֵשׁ, וְלֹא-עֲלִיתֶם בָּהָר לֵאמֹר.

Note that the letters alef, bet, gimel are used as the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc.  My translation:

1 Moses called to all of Israel and he said to them, “Hear, Israel, the decrees and the judgments which I speak in your ears today.  And you shall learn them and keep them to do them.

2 The Lord our God cut with us a covenant at Horeb.

3 Not with our fathers did the Lord cut this covenant, but with us here today, all of us living.

4 Face to face the Lord spoke with you on the mountain, from the midst of the fire.

5 I am standing between God and you at that time, to make known to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid in the face of the fire, and did not go up mountain when the Lord said:

This is simple Hebrew, as Deuteronomist language tends to be with its stock phrases and simple vocabulary.  After spending a semester with biblical poetry, I had forgotten Hebrew could be this easy.

One common trope in this passage is the metaphorical use of body parts.  In v. 1 we have “speak in your ears [ozen].”  Then in 4 and 5 we have the Lord “face [pnei] to face” with Israel, who is afraid “in the face of the fire.”  Hebrew is a very concrete language.  Even highly abstract terms are evoked by concrete images, some of which are echoed in the New Testament.  Body parts, especially the face, ear, and eyes, frequently represent the function they perform for the human and for God.  So God has ears to hear the prayers and petitions of humans just as humans have ears to hear the commands of God.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) points out that ears represent not just hearing, but obedience.  While some translators, such as Robert Alter, translate this “in your hearing,” I prefer to preserve the metaphor.

The face [pnei] is also a pervasive metaphor in Hebrew.  TWOT points out that the pnei:

is described not merely as an exterior instrument in one’s physiology, but rather as being engaged in some form of behavioral pattern, and is this characterized by some personal quality.  It is only natural that the face was considered to be extraordinarily revealing vis-a-vis a man’s emotions, moods, and dispositions. (1782)

This makes it possible for Hebrew to use some facial metaphors such as “hard” or “shining,” as in the popular biblical blessing “may the Lord make his face shine on you” (Num 6:25).  Seeing one’s face connotes intimacy with that person.  So while this passage says that God spoke face to face with Israel, that immediacy is mediated by the cloud.  Moses cannot see God’s face.  We cannot get to close to God, or we will die.

Another odd idiom here is to “cut a covenant” (carat berit).  Studies of the covenant form of literature in Exodus show its similarities with political treaties in the ancient Near East.  If this is the model for a covenant, why would the verb not be “sealed” (Alter), “made” (NAB, NRSV, NIV), “drawn up,” “signed,” or “ratified”?

In Genesis 15, Abraham makes a covenant with God:

"God’s Covenant with Abraham," David Martin (1639-1721)

“God’s Covenant with Abraham,” David Martin (1639-1721)

7Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ 8But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ 9He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

Scholars speculate that part of the covenant ritual in ancient Israel – whether between God and people or people and people – was cutting animals in half.  Cutting a covenant was an arduous physical process, not just signing your name on a sheet of paper.  And in the case of the covenant with God, it had the implication that the one who does not keep it might themself be cut.

Next up, I’ll be continuing with the commandments themselves.

“Thou shalt blog:” Reading the Decalogue in Hebrew, Part 1.

To kick off my blog, I’d like to start a series.  I’m going to blog through the Decalogue (aka Ten Commandments) in Hebrew over the next four weeks.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltjabsco/231958950/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltjabsco/231958950/

Some questions I will ask:

  • How are the decalogues in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 different?
  • Does the order of the 10 differ?
  • How do authorial voices (as in the documentary hypothesis) factor into those differences?
  • Was the decalogue different at Qumran?

Along the way I will parse some of the thornier parts and look at any linguistic oddities raised by the Hebrew.

510moOosfJL

To aid me, I’ll be using the Lehrhaus Judaica course on that same subject.  (If you are a Hebrew enthusiast, you should check them out.  They videostream the Advanced Hebrew courses.  We have a student taking the course from New Zealand.  Okay, advertisement done.)

I’ll also be reading through William H.C. Propp’s commentary on Exodus in the Anchor Bible series.

I hope you can join me!  See my first post, on Deuteronomy’s prologue to the ten commandments.